Jones has a go at Luxon
By Richard Harman (author)
Fallout from the Government’s bid to counter diving business confidence continued yesterday with suggestions that National Party members have called on their MPs to focus on the confidence issue rather than distractions like limo-gate.
And there is a widespread view among business organisations that Business New Zealand’s policy of keeping its communication lines open to the Government needs reviewing.
NZ First’s Minister of Regional Development, Shane Jones, suggested the coalition is not together on the appointment of the chair of the Government’s new Business Advisory Council, AirNZ CEO, Christopher Luxon when he made it clear yesterday that he expected to have little to do with him.
“My focus is on the regions,” he told Newstalk ZB's, Leighton Smith.
“I am a longstanding critic of Air New Zealand.
“Mr Luxon has been chosen by the Prime Minister; I’m faithful to the Prime Minister; that’s her choice.”
Jones said he didn’t ordinarily turn to directors like Luxon for his advice and “that’s unlikely to change.”
And he hinted that he sees his role as Minister of Regional Development embracing transport policy in the provinces which would include Air New Zealand’s regional services.
“My role is to ensure that connectivity and the potential of the provinces is not shortchanged," he said.
Jones is known to be interested in European Union regulations which penalise airlines who abandon a service – such as Air New Zealand did with its Kapiti routes.
He may also be able to have air transport included within the ambit of the Infrastructure Commission and thus make it easier for funding for new airlines or routes to be provided by the Provincial Growth Fund.
And in another veiled criticism of the Business Advisory Council, he said he was a politician who dealt in intentions.
"Ideal in concrete steps that I back to deliver concrete results.
“I have no idea what Chris is going to offer.
"The Prime Minister is absolutely entitled to employ whoever she likes, but as I said when I go round the regions, I don't find anyone grabbing the tassels of my cloak asking if I could put them in touch with Chris Luxon for regional connectivity.”
This sort of rhetoric appears to be working for Jones with National Party sources telling POLITIK that their polling is showing an increase in support for NZ First.
What may be worrying National is that support could be coming from them because they are also reporting that Labour and National are now neck and neck which would imply that National may have lost some support.
There was concern yesterday among National Party members spoken to by POLITIK that the party was not focussing on the business confidence issue and instead was concentrating too much on peripheral issues like the leakage of Simon Bridges’ limousine use and the visa application by the former US intelligence officer, Chelsea Manning.
To be fair to Bridges, National issued four press release after the Business Advisory Group announcement on Tuesday, two of which dealt with that while one dealt with the leak and another was a speech on regional development by Paul Goldsmith.
But Bridges also told Radio Live that he agreed with his immigration spokesperson, Michael Woodhouse, that Manning should not be allowed into New Zealand.
It was that comment rather than the press statements which got the headlines on Tuesday.
Bridges’ comments have drawn widespread criticism from the centre-right of New Zealand politics including the Free Speech coalition (closely linked to the right-wing Taxpayers' Union); ACT leader, David Seymour and right-wing commentator, Matthew Hooton.
Meanwhile, the business lobby was having its own problems.
What is clear from an analysis of the ANZ Bank’s business confidence survey data provided to POLITIK by the Bank is that the loss of confidence is sharpest among small businesses.
Big businesses (over 50 employees) have a business confidence rating of -42.5% whereas small businesses with less than five employees have a rating of -47.3%
A year ago the big business confidence rating was -19.1% and small business was -12.7%.
It is this divergence between big and small business which raises questions about the wisdom of appointing Luxon as chair of the Business Advisory Council given that he is the CEO of one of New Zealand’s largest companies.
And it is also behind questions being asked about the strategies of BusinessNZ CEO, Kirk Hope, who has joined the Government’s Fair Pay Working Group.
The business lobby network in New Zealand is complex and intertwined with regional employers and manufacturers’ associations feeding into the national body, BusinessNZ.
But major companies, like Air New Zealand and Fonterra, deal directly with BusinessNZ which critics say means it tends to focus on them.
There are also questions across the wider business network, which also includes the regional Chambers of Commerce, about the strategic wisdom of having Hope part of the Government’s decision making on the fair pay agreements.
The argument in favour is that it gives business a chance to influence the ultimate legislation and that it is important to keep lines of communication open.
The argument against is that if the legislation is unacceptable to business then it will be difficult to oppose it.
What many of the comments POLITIK heard yesterday seemed to suggest was that the Luxon appointment might be a catalyst for a realisation within the business community that it will need to engage politically and that it expects National to be more focused on its interests.